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Electric vs Gas Central Heating & Hot Water: Best Options?

Energy prices are rising, so you may want to learn more about heating systems and cut your costs. Download our complete landlord checklist for everything you need to do as a landlord in 2023
Alice
Alice

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Our property management team at Flex Living are conscious that energy prices are rising to record-breaking levels, so now is the time for us to help you learn about heating systems in an effort to cut your costs. The electric vs gas heating debate has left many landlords wondering which is better and cheaper for their properties. Read on to learn about different heating systems and their pros and cons!

brown-colored central heating system

In this article, we are going to discuss :

What is the Difference Between Gas and Electric Heating?

Gas central heating systems work by heating water through the burning of natural gas in a boiler. The water is circulated through radiators (or pipes for underfloor heating), and as the floors or radiators rise in temperature, they heat the room. The same process is used to supply hot water to taps in your home. 

Electric heating systems work by powering a heating element that heats the air, water or other material depending on the system used. There are many ways resistive heating is used, including in: convection heaters, infrared panels and underfloor heating, oil-filled radiators/towel rails, and ceramic radiators/ceramic heaters. To supply hot water, an electric system sends cold water to a storage tank where it is then heated using a heating element. Once the water reaches an optimal temperature, it rises to the top of the tank and travels to the relevant tap in your home

Electric heaters are considered more efficient because they turn all the electricity they use into heat. Gas heaters, on the other hand, have a lower efficiency. Not all the gas they use is converted into heat (with some lost as exhaust gases and moisture).

Many people opt for electric heating as a more sustainable option. Compared with gas boilers – which often have inefficient combustion processes and harmful emissions – electric heating offers efficient and controllable warmth release with less environmental impact. However, just because electricity is greener, it doesn’t mean it is always the most efficient option. Over time, electric options can reduce your energy performance rating (EPC). A lower EPC rating means it will cost you more to heat your home, so going electric isn’t necessarily the most cost effective choice either [read more about EPC requirements for landlords].

Is Gas Cheaper Than Electricity for Heating?

On average (and at the time of writing), gas is three times cheaper than electricity. Gas heating costs 10p/kWh and electricity costs 34p/kWh. So, in terms of unit costs, gas heating is cheaper.

We still need to consider installation and maintenance costs: The average cost to install a gas central heating system is about £5,250 (based on a gas combi boiler, heating pipework and radiators). Installing an electric heating system is slightly cheaper at around £3,790 (based on storage heaters and wiring). While it is slightly cheaper to install an electric system, the cheaper unit cost of gas renders this saving somewhat irrelevant over time.

Both gas and electric based systems accrue additional maintenance costs. Gas-based systems require gas safety checks and servicing fees. Similarly, electric systems such as immersion heaters often need maintenance work due to deterioration caused by limescale. 

As an example, let’s compare how much you could spend using an electric vs gas central heating system in a 2 bedroom flat over a ten year period (assuming costs remain constant). These two tables below show you that while you may spend a little extra on maintenance and servicing fees with a gas system, it is still more cost effective in the long run. 

GAS SYSTEM COSTS OVER 10 YEARS [2 bedroom flat]

*All figures in £GBP

Costs12345678910
Instillation5,250000000000
Annual Safety Certificate85858585858585858585
Annual Service

85858585858585858585
Break Down Repairs

000150150150150150150150
Energy Cost

2,0002,0002,0002,0002,0002,0002,0002,0002,0002,000
TOTAL: £28,000

ELECTRIC SYSTEM COSTS OVER 10 YEARS [2 bedroom flat)

*All figures in £GBP

Cost12345678910
Installation3,790000000000
Break Down Repairs000150150150150150150150
Energy Cost3,0003,0003,0003,0003,0003,0003,0003,0003,0003,000
TOTAL:£34,840

The Gas to Hydrogen Switch 2023/2030

If you’re considering using a gas central heating system, keep in mind that the UK Government has introduced a Hydrogen strategy – 20% hydrogen by 2023 and 100% by 2030. In 2023, all five of Britain’s gas grid companies will deliver 20% hydrogen to homes and businesses, replacing up to a fifth of the natural gas that is currently used. According to leading energy analysts at Cornwall Insight, this transition to hydrogen could ‘nearly double’ the cost of heating a home compared with natural gas. So, while gas may look like the cheapest option today, we don’t know what this could look like in the future.

Different Heating Systems: Pros & Cons

Property owners today have multiple options when it comes to generating hot water and centralised heating. So which heating system is best for your home? We’ll discuss the pros and cons of a range of gas and electric-based heating systems to help you decide.

Combi Boiler

Type of heating system: Gas

Covers: Hot water and heating

Description: Combi boilers have rapidly emerged as one of the most popular heating systems in the UK because of their ability to heat water on demand without using a separate water storage tank. Unlike a conventional boiler (which has a separate hot water cylinder and cold-water storage tank), a combi boiler provides both heat and hot water through one unit. When you turn a tap on, the boiler heats water directly from the mains so a separate tank is not needed. For central heating, the combi boiler has a thermostat or timer to control the temperature. Reaching the correct temperature triggers the combi boiler to turn on. You can also get electric combi boilers that work in exactly the same way but use electricity to power your central heating and hot water.

Pros:

  • Hot water is available on demand.
  • Take up less space.
  • Easy installation.
  • High energy efficiency rating of 90–94%.

Cons:

  • Since combi boilers take water in directly from the main source, if your mains supply has poor pressure, so will your taps and showerheads.
  • High maintenance with pressure top ups required every 6-12 months (along with mandated annual gas safety and boiler servicing).
  • No backup system so if your combi boiler breaks down, you’ll have no heating or hot water until it’s repaired.
  • If you have a large property, you may be unable to run multiple appliances at once with good pressure because the boiler can only hold so much water.
central heating system controller device on a wall

Immersion Cylinders

Type of heating system: Electric 

Covers: Hot water 

Description: Immersion cylinders contain heating elements that heat the water inside, so you have a storage container of hot water readily available for use in your home at any time. They work in a similar way to a kettle – only much bigger! To ‘use’ the hot water inside the cylinder, you simply turn on a tap, shower or bath. You can use immersion heaters as a primary heater for your property and a backup water heater for properties that already use a boiler system.

Pros:

  • Great backup for broken-down boilers.
  • Connected to the property’s main power supply, so can be switched on and off on-demand.
  • Can be set using a thermostat so it will automatically turn off when it reaches the desired temperature.
  • Using an automatic thermostat means you can also set the times you want hot water.
  • Can connect your immersion cylinder to a renewable energy source like solar panels.

Cons: 

  • Use electricity to heat water which can be more expensive than gas.
  • It takes a few hours to heat the full tank of water to an appropriate temperature for use.
  • Unlike a boiler, it can only provide hot water (and not central heating) for the house.

Underfloor Heating

Type of heating system: Electric or Gas

Covers: Heating

Description: There are two types of underfloor heating – hydronic (water) and electric. Hydronic systems use water-filled pipes under the floor (heated by the property’s main boiler system) to transport heat around the home. In contrast, electric underfloor systems use electrical wire mats connected to the property’s main energy supply; they are placed beneath the floor to provide heat. As the temperature of the wires increases, they pass the heat through the floor’s surface and into the room above.

Underfloor heating is a great heating installation in new developments or properties that are being renovated (i.e., where the flooring is being changed). In an existing home, you would need to lift up your existing flooring to complete the installation, which could end up being a very lengthy and costly process.

 ElectricHydronic
Pros- Cheaper to install than water systems
- Quick installation time in new developments
- Lower running costs than electric systems
- Good for use in larger spaces/multiple rooms
Cons- More expensive due to taxes
- More suited for use in single rooms (e.g., heated flooring in bathrooms)
- Higher installation cost than electric systems
- Longer installation time than electric systems

Advantages of underfloor heating systems in general include:

– Higher efficiency: underfloor heating (especially water-based) tends to use lower flow temperatures, so less energy is used in the process. Nu Heat claims this leads to 25% higher heating efficiency than radiators and up to 40% more efficiency if paired with a heat pump.

– Flexible: underfloor heating systems can be installed in any property.

– Eco-friendly: underfloor heating is a low-temperature (and therefore lower energy cost) alternative to other high-temperature systems like radiators. Using these heating systems, especially when combined with a heat pump, can reduce your environmental impact.

– Discreet and ‘invisible’: if you’re worried about the aesthetics of your home or need to save space, underfloor heating may be the perfect option.

Disadvantages of underfloor heating systems include:

– No instant heating: It can take up to 5 hours to heat your entire home with underfloor heating, and often it is most effective in single rooms (e.g., the bathroom)

– Potential flooring damage: if used incorrectly, underfloor heating systems may damage your flooring. For example, overheating can cause tiles to crack or laminated flooring to warp. Replacing flooring adds significant sums to your out of pocket expenses!

Heat Pumps

Type of heating system: Electric

Covers: Hot water and heating

Description: Heat pumps use electricity and a compressor system to redistribute heat from the outdoor air or ground into your property. During the summer, the pump can act in reverse and process cool air for your home. 

Note: If you currently use a gas system and are tempted to make the switch to electric, be cautious that switching could actually lower your EPC rating due to the higher cost of electricity. 

Pros:

  • Highly efficient: heat pumps tend to be more energy efficient than other heating systems because the heat they produce is greater than the amount of electricity consumed. This also means you benefit from lower running costs.
  • Eco-friendly: by combining your heat pumps with solar panels, you can lower greenhouse gas emissions while saving on heating costs (although keep in mind they are not entirely carbon neutral, just more so than some other heating systems).
  • Eligible for RHI Scheme: you could be eligible to receive payment under the Government’s Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme (an initiative designed to assist the installation of renewable heat systems).

Cons:

  • High upfront installation cost.
  • Somewhat difficult to install – research required to understand heat movement and local geology, especially for ground source heat pumps.
  • Depending on the size and location of your property, you could need planning permissions to install heat pumps.

Conventional Boiler

Type of heating system: Gas

Covers: Hot water and heating

Description: A conventional boiler uses a hot water storage tank (and a cold water tank depending on if you use a vented or unvented system). These tanks are usually installed in your home’s loft. The boiler system is connected to your mains, which supplies hot water for central heating and domestic use around your home. These traditional boilers are becoming less common in the UK as combi boilers rise in popularity.

Pros:

  • Capable of heating large amounts of water so suited for larger homes with multiple bathrooms.
  • Can combine with solar thermal panels to produce hot water.

Cons:

  • Takes up more room than a combi boiler.
  • Does not provide instant hot water.
  • High installation costs since multiple separate parts must be installed throughout the house.

For more information on different types of boilers, visit the Homecure Plumbers website.

Electric Shower and Electric Coil

Type of heating system: Electric 

Covers: Hot water supply

Description: Conventional electric showers use an electrical current element to heat water that passes through and leaves the shower head hot. However, water pressure can be lacking, particularly at high temperatures (or if other taps are running in the house). 

Power showers can overcome this water pressure problem by using a pump (usually contained inside a box affixed to the wall). This pump ensures there is constant water flow and adequate pressure. 

Electric coils are used in taps to transfer heat directly to the water, providing high efficiency and quick heat-up time.

Keep in mind that as with all electric-based systems, limescale can cause deterioration over time and you will need to get this checked if you don’t want your appliances to degrade!

Pros: 

  • Relatively inexpensive installation costs
  • No boiler required 

Cons:

  • Electricity costs are higher than gas 
  • Not as many water flow options and often weaker water pressure
gray metal pipes of a central heating system

Electric Radiators

Type of heating system: Electric

Covers: Heating

Convector radiators (wall-mounted):  Electric radiators heat the room using a process of convection. The fin shaped ridges maximise the heater’s contact with the air, so heat is transferred evenly from the steel body to the surrounding air. The advantage of convector heaters is that they provide instantaneous heat to the room (since they heat the air quickly). However, on the downside, there is limited heat retention once the radiator is turned off, so when turned back on again, it uses more energy to reheat the room. Convector heaters may also pose a higher fire risk, so avoid draping materials over the surface.

Oil-filled radiators  (wall-mounted):  use an electrical element to heat thermal oil inside the heater. When the electrical element gets hot, it transfers warmth to the surrounding liquid. The advantage of an oil-filled radiator is that it retains heat for several hours and has a lower power consumption. However, they tend to have a higher upfront cost and can take a while to heat up.

Storage & high retention storage heaters  (wall-mounted):  Storage heaters use cheap night-time electricity and then release it during the day, saving on electricity costs. The disadvantage is that some older models release stored heat when not in use, leading to inefficient use of heat and overheated rooms. High retention storage heaters typically offer an extra layer of insulation that keeps the heater cool when not in use, thus saving more heat for when you want to heat your property again.

Ceramic heaters (wall-mounted):  A ceramic heater uses electricity to heat a ceramic plate that in turn heats the room. These heaters have an 85–90% efficiency rate. Once the optimal temperature is reached, the electric current drops. The heater then emits only the heat stored in the ceramic plate, so less energy is required to produce longer lasting warmth. 

Who Can Install My Heating System?

Do you want to change or install a new heating system? Or perhaps you just need more information on the electric vs gas central heating debate? The best thing to do is visit tasking sites like CheckaTrade and Task Rabbit to search for the highest quality, budget-friendly installers in your area.

For more information on property renovations, please read our article on property refurbishment.

Conclusion: What Are the Best Systems in Our Opinion?

From our experience in managing hundreds of properties, combi boilers are the best for on demand hot water. They are also the cheapest option for heating your home since you have control over when the system operates and don’t waste energy storing heat. However, the lack of a backup with a combi boiler system is problematic, and so our second favourite option for an all electric household is a combination of high retention storage heaters and immersion cylinders for hot water. 

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